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The Punk Pilferer

The Punk Pilferer

by Dave Durbach / 21.04.2010

The death of Malcolm McLaren last week has left people debating what the notorious punk svengali ever offered the world, if anything. In sunny England, the land of his birth, “Music Mourns Godfather of Punk” announced the Independent, a fanciful eulogy for a man best remembered in South Africa (and elsewhere) for shamelessly ripping off unsuspecting artists and taking the credit, and cash, for himself. Be that as it may, McLaren had a knack for pre-empting trends – musical or otherwise. Almost three decades ago, he was the first of four global musical innovators who sought to showcase homegrown mbaqanga sounds on the international stage.

After finding fame as manager of bands like the Sex Pistols and New York Dolls, McLaren surprised many in 1983 with his solo debut, Duck Rock. Today remembered for introducing hip-hop to the British mainstream, other tracks on the album, like “Double Dutch”, “Jive my baby”, “Punk it up” and “Soweto” (and the B-side “Zulus on a Time Bomb”) relied almost entirely on local sounds.

Mbaqanga mixtapes and an encounter with American rapper Afrika Bambataa’s Zulu Nation first piqued McLaren’s interest. Already in 1981, as manager of the Afro-punk act Bow Wow Wow, McLaren had ripped off the Mahotella Queens’ “Umculo Kawupheli” for their track “Jungle Boy”. The following year, “the great rock ‘n roll swindler” headed South, recording with local artists at RPM studios in Joburg, with the help of Phil Hollis (who later launched stars like Yvonne Chaka Chaka and Sello ‘Chicco’ Twala) and British producer Trever Horn. According to Billboard magazine in November ’82, “the original intention was to record only one or two tracks in South Africa, but in the end enough material was taped… to fill a whole album.”

Controversially, no songwriting credit was given to any SA musicians. Most famously, McLaren took the Boyoyo Boys’ hit “Puleng” (aka “Pule”) and turned it into “Double Dutch”, which reached number 3 on UK charts, the highest charting single of his career. Claiming credit for himself and Horn, McLaren refused to share royalties with the song’s real authors. Only after a lengthy legal struggle did the Boys receive their dues. Bayete’s Jabu Khanyile, pennywhistle champ Aaron “Big Voice Jack” Lerole and Mahlathini and the Mahotella Queens were all reportedly involved on Duck Rock, though little written evidence exists. Influential music critic Robert Christgau wrote at the time, “I wish he’d thought to mention which specific Africans contributed to which specific tracks. Culture may be collective, but (in this culture) wealth ain’t.”

End of Part 1. Tune in next week for Part 2.

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  1. death to interior decorators says:

    There is only one “Godfather Of Punk” and that is Iggy Pop.

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  2. Kill All Property Developers, Lawyers and Real Estate Agents says:

    Amen to that.

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  3. Stop Fucking Breeding says:

    I’ll see your amen and raise you a toast! Jim Osterberg, he’s the man!

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  4. Isolation says:

    Thank’s for setting the record straight the man was a thief and that fact must be acknowldged by all those singing his praises!

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  5. strummertime says:

    well he probably opened a few doors that you may have ended up reaping the rewards of down the track…
    when you think back to the 80’s – the outside world had no idea about south african or any african populist music – except for appropriations introduced by the like of mclaren, paul simon etc.
    to brand him an outright thief is a bit simplistic…
    he was hardly a wealthy man from the whole exercise.
    I would hate to come down there now and start pointing fingers at artists performing that have borrowed heavily from other influences now would we?

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  6. Michelle says:

    Paul Simon credited the musicians on his albums, and Simon’s songs don’t come across as ‘really catchy until the white guy starts saying something patronising over the music.’ Jeez, had no idea Malcolm McLaren was this crap.

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  7. Getitright says:

    A small clue for Strummertime – actually MIriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela, Caiphus Semenya, Letta Mbulu, and Jonas Gwangwa – to name but a few had done a pretty good job of spreading “African populist music” in the western world. So it’s actually the other way round – in the ’80’s South Africans had no idea what or how much African populist music the world was was familiar with.
    And the door that McLaren slipped through was one that had long been opened – Chris McGregor, Johnny Mehegan, Julian Bahula, Dudu Pukwana, etc. Not for nothing put Mclaren and Simon are in two different worlds on this – like Michelle said Simon gave credit and collaborated – going so far as to invite Masekela, Makeba and Ladysmith Black Mambazo on a worldwide tour with him. McLaren just ripped people off and gave no one credit and took all the money (and credit) for himself.Just because he didn’t become wealthy through his thievery doesn’t make it any less thievery.
    Being influenced by and stealing peopel’s shit is two different things – Joe Strummer was influenced by – McLaren stole.
    As for the whole godfather of punk thing – I think Bernie Rhoades might have a thing or two to say about that.

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  8. death to interior decorators says:

    Is Bernie related to Nick Rhoades from Duran Duran?

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  9. artofkawaii says:

    the thievery we would uncover if we reeeeally went into the nitty gritty of the music business…dont stop there, the sciences, literature, mathematics, architecture, philosophy… EVERYTHING. Thank you for this. I had never heard of this person

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  10. Jumbo says:

    The real villain was Trevor Horn the Producer and so called co writer of Duck Rock ..McLaren did at least write new words..
    You have to work a bit to get some musician credits on the paper insert with the LP–I’d like to thank all the Zulu Nation especially Exchange Nkosi,Noise,Lulu,Mandisa,the Mclarenettes…….etc.The template for Double Dutch is 12 Mabone by West Nkosi Nabashokobezi,composer West Nkosi and Rupert Bopabe,Noise Khanyile,the violinist played on that track,and may be the Noise credited in the thank yous..

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  11. […] essentially subverts their original resistant meaning, as seen in the examples of punk music, ethnic cultural manifestations appropriated by the dominant mode, graffiti, zines, so-called subversive art, etc. Groups that […]

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